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When deadlines collide

Last updated on January 18, 2023

I’m deadline obsessed. No, really. I don’t miss them. I work ahead of them. If I’m not finished several days before the work is actually due, I get twitchy. Because of this, I am very careful to structure my client work in a way that helps me to work according to my preferred schedule. I limit the number of clients that I work with at any given time. I pad the schedules,

knowing that no one on the client side ever submits feedback on time. And 99.99% of the time, everything runs smoothly, with the peaks of Client A falling during the valleys of Client B.

And then, every few years, that 0.01% comes back to bite me.

Client A was chugging along predictably, as they always do.

Client B took a month longer than expected to review the project.

Client C let the project sit for two months, and then came back with their hair on fire, screaming “Urgent! Urgent!”

Now, here’s the problem with a client sitting on a project. Contractors have a certain number of hours in their week. If those hours aren’t being filled, they’re not getting paid. This leads to the difficult decision: leave those hours open, just in case, or plow ahead, fill the hours and hope for the best. I chose the latter. While my bank account remained steady, my sanity sure took a hit.

Three big projects. Three big deadlines. One hellish week.

Client C was in a frenzy. It needed to be done ASAP! Why didn’t I intuit that they would need this completed on that particular week, not seven weeks earlier as we had planned in the original schedule? Yes, they knew that I had been pinging them twice a week to find out the status, which was always “we’ll have it to you by Friday.” Yes, they knew we had a contractual agreement for a no-less-than four business day turnaround on my part, but couldn’t I do it even faster? You know, without the rush fees, just as a courtesy? (No.)

Client B was also in a hurry, although somewhat less so. If I needed an extra day, it wasn’t going to make or break the project. (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)

Client A, the always-predictable, always-reliable client turned out to be my relief valve. I casually asked them when they would need to submit their project for the next round of reviews. As it turned out, most of their reviewers happened to be out of town at a conference, and they had no issue with me taking a few extra days. “It’s no problem!” they said. (I wanted to reach through the phone and kiss them.)

And… breathe.

The fact of the matter is this: sometimes, no matter how well you have planned things, projects collide. It happened when I worked in the corporate world, and it happens as an independent. It’s part of life. But it’s my job to anticipate those collisions as much as possible to mitigate the damage to my client relationships as well as my personal sanity.

Here’s to learning from this and making better mistakes tomorrow.

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